The entrepreneurial accelerator no one is talking about

And why that’s about to change

When you’re a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, the first rule is, you can’t talk about the Entrepreneurs’ Organization.

The conversations that happen when the 100 members of the Charlotte EO chapter come together are confidential; the goal is to create a safe space for honest conversation and entrepreneurial support, free from sales pitches, competition and judgment.

There’s one downside to that rule: Because the organization, which has chapters around the world, is so good at not talking about what it does, it has stayed relatively quiet about its latest — and less confidential — community endeavors, the EO Accelerator.

The EO Accelerator is a training program that helps entrepreneurs and small business owners scale. To qualify, a business must make at least $250,000 in revenue. Then, over the course of three years, that business works with EO members and mentors to reach $1 million — the threshold for membership in EO.

 “One of our core values are go boldly, make a mark, have a thirst for learning, build trust and show respect” said Bryan Delaney, co-founder of Skookum and a longtime EO member. “As a board, we started to look at how we could create a program that would help other entrepreneurs in town. EO global had put together a curriculum. We’ve turned that into a unique experience for our participants, the coaches and the other people who get involved.”

Delaney joined EO eight years ago. A friend told him about it after a pickup basketball game, and, as an early-stage entrepreneur, he liked the idea of having a place to go for support. He’d looked into other local organizations designed to help small businesses, but this was something different. 

“It was a sacred space — somewhere you could talk about how you just lost a client or how someone just embezzled from you. That’s not something you’re going to share publicly,” Delaney explained.

But those are real situations entrepreneurs encounter, and without help, it can be hard to find a way out. In fact, that’s the story behind EO, Delaney explained. A group of entrepreneurs in the 1980s started getting together and talking business, and everything was always great — until one of them committed suicide.

“Things were not great for him, but the bravado of entrepreneurship wouldn’t let him get past telling everyone things were amazing. No one ever knew what was going on until it was too late,” Delaney said.

By nature of its revenue threshold, EO has always been limited in the number of entrepreneurs it can help. The EO Accelerator changes that, Delaney said.

To participate, entrepreneurs need to hit a lower revenue threshold of $250,000. They have to apply and go through an interview process. They also have to pay $2,500 a year for the three-year program.

“It’s challenging for a lot of folks to bite off on that,” Delaney said. “But for people who took this program seriously in the first year and committed to it and really wanted to scale, across the board they say spending $2,500 is a no-brainer. The value they’ve received from the program is exponentially more.”

Case in point: Jeni Bukolt, founder of Haven Creative, a marketing agency that creates comprehensive branding platforms for towns, counties, developments and community projects.

“Before EO Accelerator, I was too ‘busy’ working in my business to work on my business. That alone was a valuable lesson to learn. You have to step out of your business in order to grow,” Bukolt said.

Each quarter, she attends a full-day workshop that focuses on people, strategy, execution or cash. She also meets monthly with her accountability group — a group of 4 to 6 entrepreneurs led by an active EO member.

“The accountability groups pushed me beyond my comfort zone — in a good way — to see the value of my business and to set measurable goals, which resulted in over 40% of our growth this year,” Bukolt said.

Bukolt is one of 16 entrepreneurs in the accelerator now, and Delaney said the goal is to increase that number to 50 by this time next year. That means EO has to do the one thing it doesn’t like to do: talk about EO.

 “Now, it’s about spreading the word, building partnerships with other groups around town and trying to be visible where there will be entrepreneurs looking for help around scaling,” Delaney said. “We can learn a lot from working with each other to help the city and the community.”

One of those early partnerships was with INCLT. We provided financial support to help launch  the EO Accelerator and help create yet another option to support entrepreneurs in Charlotte. It’s part of our overarching effort to strengthen the Queen City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Local startup RMCSoft is helping us do that, as an avid INCLT supporter and sponsor of stories like this.

Want to learn more about how INCLT is supporting the Queen City’s entrepreneurs? Click here.

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For information on how you can support INCLT as a sponsor, contact Igor Gorlatov at igor@inclt.org.